In recent years, legal professionals have joined the bandwagon of their knowhow on Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. However, in other circles, the Guiding Principles are a term they associate only with non- governmental organisations fighting for people’s rights not with day to day business of any law firm, business department or corporate supply chains.

Lawyers can play a critical role in helping their clients respect human rights – including their corporate clients.
Many lawyers from leading international law firms and in- house legal departments are already supporting their corporate clients’ efforts to implement the United Nations (UN) Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Unfortunately, some lawyers remain unconvinced for a variety of reasons, including a lack of understanding about what the Guiding Principles mean and how they can apply to legal services.

Now, three years after the endorsement of the Guiding Principles by the UN Human Rights Council. This article seeks to appraise lawyers within corporate law on the United Nations Guiding Principles (UNGPs) .The articles explores the ways in which the Guiding Principles may be relevant to the advice and other services lawyers provide to their business clients recognizes the relevance of the Guiding Principles for law firms as business enterprises with their own responsibilities to respect human rights.

So why should business lawyers read the guidance herein? The six reasons are:

  1. Risk management: a company’s failure to manage its human rights risks can have serious risks for the company itself, including legal risks.
  2. Sustainability: companies increasingly see the management of human rights risks as important to their sustainability objectives. They expect their most valued lawyers – both inside and outside counsel – to advise them on human rights as part of their broader management of legal risks.
  3. Changing laws: the law is dynamic, not static. Laws requiring companies to respect human rights are increasing global, as seen most recently in legislation requiring reporting on human rights risks in the United Kingdom, European Union and the United States, and criminal and civil lawsuits filed against companies worldwide. Non-governmental organizations also increasingly use the Guiding Principles for their advocacy in and out of the courtroom.
  4. Compliance and national law: lawyers can play a critical role in helping companies comply with national law that protects human rights. Lawyers can also provide key advice to help clients understand and address potential tensions between national law and human rights.
  5. Prevention of human rights harm: there are many areas of legal practice where business lawyers have the ability to help a company to prevent or mitigate human rights problems, e.g., by shaping how a company selects, contracts with, monitors the performance of and terminates or renews its relationship with third parties who may have the potential to involve the company in human rights problems.

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